Creating a Vibrant STEM Study Abroad Program With a Cultural Component

Creating a Vibrant STEM Study Abroad Program With a Cultural Component

Boyko Georgiev Gyurov (Georgia Gwinnett College, USA) and Mark Andrew Schlueter (Georgia Gwinnett College, USA)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2791-6.ch010
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In 2014, the authors of this chapter joined forces to create a unique STEM study abroad experience for Georgia Gwinnett College students, and that experience grew into a model worthy to be examined and replicated. The model addresses the main objectives of U.S. Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act to bring the demographics of study abroad participation to reflect the demographics of the United States undergraduate population and to implement the study abroad programs in nontraditional study abroad destinations, and in particular in developing countries. Further, the model contains six important components (bundle setup, faculty led, interdisciplinary academic content delivery, undergraduate research, low cost, and cultural component added). The characteristics of all of which are explained in details in the paper. Finally, the successes and challenges of the program are discussed through the prism of it successful implementation in the summers of 2015 and 2016.
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Over the past two decades, colleges and universities have made a significant effort to provide study abroad opportunities for their students. Most higher education institutions feel that students should be interculturally competent and exhibit global awareness. Universities have even inserted terms such as global society, globalization, and international awareness into their students’ educational goals. Focusing on internationalizing the curriculum has become a priority in higher education in the USA, with over 90% of all colleges and universities offering study abroad (Hoffa & DePaul, 2010). Studies suggest that study abroad experiences have significant beneficial outcomes for students, such as becoming more interested in academics (Malmgren & Galvin, 2008) and becoming more globally aware (Dolby, 2007; Fuller, 2007; Clarke, Flaherty, Wright, & McMillen, 2009).

Many students have taken advantage of study abroad opportunities. During the 2014-2015 academic year, 313,415 students participated in study abroad programs, an increase of over 150% from just 10 years ago (Institute of International Education (IIE), 2015). The number of undergraduates who studied abroad in the same period was 274,551, and despite the 3.6% increase over the participants in 2013/2014, the overall percentage of U.S. students who study abroad remains below 2 percent of total U.S. undergraduates. These incremental successes highlight the complexity and the hardship of successfully setting up and executing study abroad opportunities. Many academic institutions spend significant time and effort creating study abroad programs, yet only a small fraction of their students take advantage of these programs. On a federal level, in 1990, The National Task Force on Undergraduate Education recommended that, by the year 2000, 10% of North American college and university undergraduates should have a significant educational experience abroad before graduating (Burn & Smuckler, 1990). The recommendation was given federal support by the passage of the National Security Education Act of 1991, which sought to facilitate study abroad, among other things. A simple extrapolation from the data shows, however, that at the current participation rate at around 2% and the average graduation rate of over 5 years, the National Task Force recommendation would miss its mark by at least two decades. One may argue that this is proof of the inefficiency of the federal government to execute and deliver on its programs, and another - that this is proof of the complexity of the undertaking. However, all would agree that in an economically and digitally shrinking world, a cross-cultural awareness and exploitation of the advantages that it gives is a must for a nation that wants to be at the leading edge.

In 2016, a revised goal on study abroad was proposed by the passage of the Senator Paul Simon’s Study Abroad Program Act, in which the conjecture of one million U.S. college students engaged in studying abroad each year was proposed. However, at the current growth rate of around 3% per year (IIE, 2015), the goal of 1 million students studying abroad per year, cannot occur for at least another generation.

Student diversity, both socially and financially, of participating U.S. students is very restricted, with a low percentage of males and minorities participating in study abroad programs. The vast majority of current study abroad students are financially comfortable, white females without disabilities (Stallman, Woodruff, Kasravi, & Comp, 2010; Sweeney, 2013). Furthermore, most study abroad students major in social sciences and humanities (Stroud, 2010), and despite the reversal of trends in the last 5 years with STEM and business taking the lead and accounting for about 44% of study abroad participants, still only (slightly under) one out of four attending students is in the field of the natural sciences, engineering, or math (IIE, OpenDoors® “FastFacts”, 2016).

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